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Trump forces his party to keep focus on the last election

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, left, shakes hands with former Sen. David Perdue
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, left, shakes hands with former Sen. David Perdue at a Republican gubernatorial debate on April 24, 2022, in Atlanta.Miguel Martinez / Pool via AP

WASHINGTON — If it’s Monday ... Secretary of State Blinken and Defense Secretary Austin meet with Zelenskyy in Kyiv. ... French President Macron cruises to re-election, defeating far-right leader Marine Le Pen. ... President Biden is expected to discuss immigration and Title 42 with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, per NBC’s Carol E. Lee. ... NBC’s Marc Caputo dives into the controversial 2013 gun incident that continues to haunt Democratic Pennsylvania Senate frontrunner John Fetterman as Democrats and Republicans in the race prepare to debate. ... And Sen. Elizabeth Warren on 2024: “President Biden is running in 2024, and I'm supporting him — cheerfully.”

But first: One consequence of former President Donald Trump continuing to relitigate the 2020 presidential election — and demanding his party join the fray — is that it is forcing 2022 GOP candidates to remain stuck in the past.

Case in point was last night’s first Republican Georgia governor's debate between incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp and the Trump-endorsed challenger David Perdue, where the 2020 election took center stage, NBC’s Blayne Alexander reports.

Perdue, the former senator who’s made his gubernatorial bid almost all about the last presidential election, began his opening remarks this way: “Let me be clear — the 2020 election was rigged and stolen.” (In fact, there continues to be no evidence of widespread fraud in ’20.)

Per Alexander, Perdue repeatedly attacked Kemp for “failing to investigate” election fraud and not calling a special session to overturn the election results, calling Kemp a “weak leader” and “somebody who didn’t fight for us.”

Kemp fired back at Perdue: “I was secretary of state for eight years. I don’t need to be lectured by the guy who lost his last election on what the voting laws are.”

The immediate political future for the Republican Party, for its 2022 candidates and for party leaders like Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell has never looked brighter.

Except that Donald Trump keeps tripping them up (like the audio of McCarthy we all learned about last week).

The former president continues to be the biggest unknown for November.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 42

That’s how many years the late Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, served in the Senate. He was the longest-serving Republican in U.S. history and retired after the 2018 elections.

Hatch’s foundation announced that he passed away over the weekend, surrounded by his family in Salt Lake City at the age of 88. Born during the Great Depression, Hatch became one of the more influential members of the Senate — he chaired three standing committees over his tenure, played a key role in shepherding the GOP’s landmark tax reform bill in 2017 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor in 2018.

In his final floor speech weeks before he left office, Hatch gave his colleagues some parting advice: “We must restore the culture of comity, compromise and mutual respect that used to exist here. Both in our personal and public conduct, we must be the very change we want to see in the country. We must not be enemies but friends.”

Other numbers you need to know today:

58.5 percent: The share of the vote that French President Emmanuel Macron is projected to have won in the country’s presidential election, which he won over the far-right Marine Le Pen.

56 percent: The portion of young voters (aged 18-29) who believe politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing, per the new Harvard Youth Poll.

47 percent: The increase in the two-week average of daily Covid cases, per NBC News.

30 percent: The decrease in the two-week average of daily Covid deaths.

81,142,537: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials.

996,098: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far.

Midterm roundup: Can’t find a Fetter-man

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman faced questions in last week’s Democratic Senate primary debate about a 2013 incident, when Fetterman chased a Black jogger with a shotgun after he believed he heard gunshots. And some Democrats are concerned Republicans could use the incident to depress Black turnout should Fetterman win the nomination, NBC News’ Marc Caputo reports.

“He’s not shooting straight on this, no pun intended. Just fess up. Apologize,” Michael Nutter, Philadelphia’s last Black mayor, told Caputo.

Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, a Democratic organizer in Philadelphia, estimated that turnout in the city could drop by 40,000 or 50,000 votes. “That would be enough to lose the election for us,” he said.

Fetterman will face off again with his fellow Democrats in a debate at 7 p.m. ET tonight. Meanwhile, the Republican candidates for Senate will face off in a debate tonight hosted by ABC27 at 8 p.m. ET. All of the top candidates, including Mehmet Oz, David McCormick, Carla Sands, Jeff Bartos and Kathy Barnette, are expected to attend. And the Hill digs into Oz’s political evolution as he faces voters skeptical of his conservative bona fides.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Arkansas Senate: A new ad from a super PAC opposing Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., hits the senator from the right on immigration. The primary race between Boozman and former football player Jake Bequette has featured intense ads, underscoring how Republicans are trying to navigate appealing to a base that’s angry Trump is no longer in office, per the Associated Press.

New Hampshire Senate: Politico reports that Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan’s recent visit to the southern border, along with her opposition to the Biden administration’s decision to repeal Title 42, sparked criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.

Ohio Senate: Trump dismissed J.D. Vance’s past criticism of him ahead of the May 3 primary, NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard reported from Trump’s Delaware, Ohio rally on Saturday. Trump’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., is also campaigning with Vance today. Meanwhile, Trump’s endorsement has “escalated the tension and nastiness that from the start have served as the race’s hallmarks,” writes NBC News’ Henry J. Gomez.

Utah Senate: Utah Democrats decided to not put up their own Senate candidate against Republican Sen. Mike Lee, instead voting to endorse independent Evan McMullin.

Illinois Governor: Republican gubernatorial hopeful Richard Irvin is up with a new ad attacking the Democratic Governors Association for meddling in the primary with anti-Irvin ads.

Nebraska Governor: Republican gubernatorial hopeful Charles Herbster is suing state Sen. Julie Slama for defamation after the Republican lawmaker accused him of groping her in 2019.

Georgia 14: After Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s nearly four-hour testimony on Friday, both sides are expected to submit briefs by Thursday before a judge decides whether to recommend she be removed from the ballot over her connection to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Texas 28: In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, who faces a progressive challenger in a May 24 primary runoff, said that the Biden administration is “listening to the immigration activists” on immigration policy with their decision to lift Title 42 next month. “But my question is, who’s listening to the men and women in green and in blue?” he added.

Ad watch: Blaming both sides

While Republicans have coalesced around their message for the midterms — attacking Biden on issues like inflation and immigration — the Democrats’ stalled congressional agenda has complicated their party’s midterm messaging.

North Carolina Democrat Cheri Beasley, a former state Supreme Court Justice, released a a new ad out today in her Senate bid where she seeks distance from both parties in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat for senator since 2008

“Looking at Washington, I think both parties are doing the job wrong. Instead of focusing on what people care about, they get caught up in political games,” Beasley says in the ad.

Beasley isn’t the first Democrat running for Senate to advocate for voters to look past party affiliation. In Ohio, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan had a similar message in a recent ad: “We can't afford to be Democrats and Republicans. Right now, we have to be Americans first.”

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

NBC’s Sahil Kapur and Benjy Sarlin look at the five key questions facing Democrats as Congress returns.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Twitter is “re-examining” Tesla billionaire Elon Musk’s bid for the company and “could finalize a deal as soon as this week.”

Advocates are warning that new, GOP-led changes to voting laws could have a disproportionate impact on groups like the disabled and Native Americans.

A military judge convicted an Air Force general with abusive sexual conduct this weekend, the first conviction of a general in the branch’s history, according to the New York Times.